Why Isn't Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Buying More Internationally?

According to Warren Buffett, international acquisitions are attractive, but they're harder to find.

May 11, 2014 at 7:30PM

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Photo: Matt Koppenhoffer, The Motley Fool.

Every year, thousands of investors flock to Omaha to hear the wisdom of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. For as long as six hours, with only one break for lunch, the two business legends take questions from investors, the press, and analysts. Appropriately for a shareholder meeting, the focus is the business of Berkshire Hathaway  (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) but it's not the only topic they discuss. This year, Buffett discussed Berkshire's international ,based on a question from Gregg Warren of Morningstar (NASDAQ:MORN).

Following are my notes on Gregg Warren's question, along with responses from Buffett and Munger.

Gregg Warren: Berkshire has deployed very little capital outside the U,S. Is it because the U.S. is that much more attractive, or is it for other reasons?

Warren Buffett: We've never turned down a chance to make a significant outside-U.S. acquisition because of any feeling we'd want to be in the U.S. We haven't had as much luck getting on the radar of owners around the world as we have in the U.S.

Our best bet is to buy a business from the family of the founder or the founder themselves. That's our strong suit, and anybody in the U.S. with a business of size thinks of us, and a fair number would prefer us. I think we have some recognition outside the U.S. Iscar was 2006, I had never heard of the family, but he said we were those only one he'd consider selling to. If they [Iscar] didn't sell it to us, they weren't going to sell it. There's some awareness, but I'm disappointed we haven't done more outside the company.

I just spoke to the manager of Iscar -- they set a new record in April, and it won't be the last record they set. They sell this tiny little cutting-tool saw going into basic industry all over the world; people buy them cause they are using them, not because they look pretty in their office. They are seeing strength in the business that wouldn't suggest there's weakness in the industrial world. The people at Iscar are wonderful; the business is sensational. I wish we could find more like it.

This year, aside from yesterday's announcement, we have not been contacted by any significant [potential acquisitions] that made sense. We have heard from a fair number over the last five years, but nothing that's made sense. But we'll keep trying.

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Brendan Mathews owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool recommends Berkshire Hathaway and Morningstar and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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